Photo by: Henoc Kivuye
Oklahoma Christian University’s cross-country program showed their title didn’t dampen their hunger for success yesterday, as new talent and fresh veterans pushed to a victory at the Strohman Dental/Midwestern State Stampede.
Though the men raced in Texas, the women’s team will compete closer to home in the Central Oklahoma Land Run tomorrow.
Returning from their summer training regimen, the Eagles appear to have kept their physical edge, according to Head Coach for Men’s Cross Country Wade Miller.
“I asked them to maintain their fitness that they had coming off track, after taking a break to regenerate some enthusiasm and rest up to get their bodies recovered,” Miller said. “After that point, they started training again. Specifically, I asked for consistency in trying to put in a run as often as possible…I was pleased with the way everybody came in.”
As the returning NCCAA champions, the Eagles are hoping to keep a tight hold on their title. With five of their seniors graduating last spring, participation in the Stampede acted primarily as a gauge for the rest of the season.
“We have a really good freshman class, so we should have a really good season,” sophomore Trent Stephens said.
With guidance and leadership from returning runners – seniors Nick Stoots and David Koistinen, juniors Riley Compton, Roberto Diaz and Brennym Kaelin, and sophomores Bryant Keirns, Trent Stephens and Timothy Zuercher – the incoming runners are joining what some see as not just a team, but a family.
The Eagles, especially senior Roberto Diaz, seem ready to have fresh faces running alongside them.
“The camaraderie that comes with [cross country running] is pretty great,” Diaz said. “A lot of people do not realize the team aspect of it. You run with the same people every day and you just get to know each other. You are almost forced to talk about things. You really get to know the other person and they become some of the best friends of your life.”
Diaz, an international business major at Oklahoma Christian, has proven to be a natural-born leader for the Eagles’ cross country team.
“Running chose me my sophomore year of high school,” Diaz said. “It was just a natural gift I had.”
In the past season with Oklahoma Christian, Diaz earned NCCAA All-America honors six times in cross country and track, a second-place finish at the opening Central Oklahoma Land Run and multiple Heartland Conference runner of the week honors. Diaz finished second individually in the Stampede yesterday, followed closely by Keirns as they led the squad to its commanding win over conference foe Dallas Baptist University.
The men’s cross country team holds the advantage of having a high quantity of returning runners this year, allowing the team to have a firm understanding of what the upcoming season might look like for them.
On the other hand, the revamped, predominately freshmen women’s team is relying on their race tomorrow as an indicator for the rest of the season.
“As every year, [early meets] are just to kind of see where you are at and it gives you an idea of where you need to go from there,” Miller said. “It is kind of a fitness gauge or barometer. You cannot always tell how the season’s going to go based on the first race though, there are so many things that happen from that point to nationals.”
These “rust buster” events ease the runners into the season and act as a baseline for the coaches.
With the women’s team, it helps predict who might distinguish themselves as the season progresses.
Three of the incoming Lady Eagles freshmen – Sarah Cobb, Layne Hammer and Maci Rich – signed with Oklahoma Christian during the NCAA signing period earlier this year.
Their additions to the team will be noted in their first race of the season on Saturday.
Together with freshmen Aubree Hughes and Katie Jones, these five runners provide new talent that the team is ready to help develop and mature.
“We are going to have to learn a lot of lessons early,” Miller. “There is going to be some transitions for some of those girls, from a two-mile race to a 5k. … I see that being an adjustment. Also, all of them kind of getting used to the college life, learning their schedules, time management and those kinds of things like their sleep habits. It is just going to be a transition all around. So, the three returning runners are definitely understanding that they’re going to need to be good leaders.”
Returning sophomore Tara Lewis proved an essential addition to last season’s six-person Lady Eagles squad, and quickly became the top women’s cross-country runner.
Lewis ended last season as the only Oklahoma Christian runner to compete in all seven meets on the schedule, finishing in the top 10 on three occasions. Lewis is one of only five Oklahoma Christian runners to ever post a top 50 finish in a national women’s cross country meet.
“It’s a good first opener to see how we’re going to do and see what we need to improve on,” Lewis said. “It’s a great way to see what the rest of the team is going to be like.”